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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.


Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.

Sex, Understanding, Confusion, False Messages and Eating Disorders

If you have an eating disorder, you most likely know that while human sexuality is flagrantly advertised and photographed, exploited and both demonized and idealized, your actual experience is rarely reflected back to you in ways that help you feel understood or understand yourself.

Today a notice came across my desk that makes this situation abundantly clear as I'm writing the chapter on sex in my eating disorder recovery book for adult women.  Amazing.

Dating Service Fires 5000 Members

BeautifulPeople.Com in Denmark is a dating service.  The goal of the members, obviously, is to date beautiful people. But to date a beautiful person one must be a beautiful person, and that beauty is defined by the administration. So it seems that BeautifulPeople.Com monitors how much you eat over the winter holidays and casts you out if you drop below the threshold of "beautiful."

In this first week of 2010, when members submitted their pictures over 5000 must have gotten a nasty surprise.  The news is:

Site's administrators kicked off more than 5,000 members for appearing too heavy in post-holiday photos.

Fleeting Beauty or Looking in All the Wrong Ways for Beauty?

I wonder, what does "dating service" mean?  People can't be signing up for long-term relationships. Over the long term of our lives we change shape because of aging, illness, stopping or starting exercise, pregnancy and childbirth and yes, of course, weight loss and weight gain.

Or perhaps people believe that no one really changes, develops, evolves or devolves over time.  Perhaps people believe they are betrayed or lied to if their partner does change. Or they may feel betrayed if their own bodies change.

I have two close girlfriends, one who is three and one who is five.  Their skin is pure, blemish-free, taut and rosy.  They are both fascinated, worried and point out to me with great serious concern their boo-boos.  I almost need a magnifying glass to see the tiny pink dot from a slight brush with a sidewalk or twig.

They are momentarily dismayed but able to live their full lives unencumbered by shame. We talk about healing.  In a day their bodies are blemish-free again. They were confident all would be well and accept quite naturally that indeed, all is well.

Explore Your Standards: Where is Love?

Is it possible that a large number of adults still hold on to the belief that body perfection is the normal standard and any disturbance in that picture is a shameful, worrisome catastrophe that warrants their being outcast?  Forgive my naivete, but where is love?  Where is even the hope of love?

If you have an eating disorder you strive to achieve a body that is beautiful by whatever your standards are.  Those standards are usually unrealistic.  And you strive for that beauty because you genuinely believe beauty will bring you happiness, wanted attention, love, family, wealth, career, success, safety, security or whatever it is that you want.

Sexuality is another matter  You look about you to see what sexual behavior is supposed to be and you try to accommodate.  Your eating disorder cuts you off from your genuine and expansive sexuality just as it cuts you off from your other feelings.

You know about performing, faking, manipulating, pretending.  You know about cuddling and being frightened when cuddling changes to sexual intensity  You know about fear at penetration. You know about boredom and feeling nothing.

You know about your need to please and your certainty that beauty will stimulate your partner.  You try to catch hold of your partner's desire because you feel little of your own.  Or you feel a great deal of passion and sexual intensity but have little awareness or care for your partner.

Soften Those Judgements and Get Real

The example set by organizations like Beauty.com play into your vulnerabilities. You can be just as harsh or even more harsh than the site's administration in terms of cutting yourself off from human connection because of your appearance.

You feel you must have a certain look, be a certain weight before you are attractive, desirable and lovable.  Yet love has nothing to do with this standard or this judgement.  Learning how to love and be loved is a vital part of eating disorder recovery.  This harsh standard and punishing judgement is completely without love or respect for the possibility of love.

Here's a suggestion I give my patients who are caught in their false beliefs about body size and love. My practice is in urban West Los Angeles. I tell them to go out on the sidewalk.

Go to shops, malls and parks. Look for the people holding hands who do not qualify as beautiful by your standards.  Look for the people who are far removed from your standard of even an okay body and who are holding hands, pushing strollers with smiling babies, being part of a loving couple or a loving family.

Let these scenes from reality - not reality TV - but real reality be your guide.

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